F for Fake

Orson Welles’s penultimate film “F for Fake” (1973) is a kind of an essay film about fakes and forgeries.

It presents the real life story of Elmyr de Hory, a Hungarian born painter who has made and sold thousands of art forgeries over a period of 22 years until he committed suicide in 1976. He is said to have his early life in a Nazi concentration camp, but not proven. His whole early life is a mystery. He says he has not sold any paintings to any private collector, but only to museums and those museums in turn made hundreds of dollars of profit from his forged paintings. He has painted when he was hungry and broke and sold for as less at 15 dollars to get his next meal. He is also said to have never signed his paintings as that of the original master. Elmyr is chased all over US and Europe but finally gets peace in an island in Spain called Ibiza where he stayed in a spacious rented house and threw parties in which young women were invited, but the rents were paid by a museum owner.

Alongside is the story of Clifford Irving, who wrote a book on Elmyr de Hory, titled “Fake”. It is from this book that Elmyr de Hory gained more celebrity or notoriety status. Clifford Irving is more famous for faking an autobiography as a collection of memoirs of US aviation pioneer, industrialist Howard Hughes. He created documents purported to be contracts between Howard Hughes and Clifford Irving for writing of an autobiography and based on that, received advances from publishing company.

Orson Welles then talks about himself, about his early life fakery when he got a job by falsely claiming to be a New York actor and his radio stories for War of the Worlds, when he managed to fool the American public into thinking there is going to be an imminent alien invasion.

The last bit of fakery is about his girl friend Olga Koder a beautiful Hungarian picture perfect model who managed to attract the attention of Pablo Picasso and inveigled him into painting 22 paintings of her in nude, semi nude and other attractive poses. She somehow also convinced him into giving all the 22 paintings to her and later on Picasso learns that some of his newer works are on display in a museum in Europe. Upon rushing to that museum, he finds that none of them were painted by him, but apparently by Olga’s grandfather who is also purportedly an art forger.

The last bit of the story is a fakery in itself, when Orson announces at the end that he has given 1 hour of realism to the viewers, whereas the last 17 minutes is fake. Note the connection between 22 years of art forgery by Elmyr de Hory and 22 paintings supposedly painted by Picasso. The movie is made in a mix of narration, actual dialogues and frozen images. Most of the monologues are by Orson Welles himself. The characters are played by themselves – Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Olga Kodar, who was apparently Orson’s last mistress until his death in 1985.

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